Monthly Archives: December 2011

My speech at the Schumacher Lectures: “If you don’t like capitalism or state socialism, what do you want?”

On November 5th, 2011, I delivered this speech at the annual E.F. Schumacher lectures.

Download the audio

Watch the video and join the discussion at Common Dreams

Read the transcript at the New Economics Institute 

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On Democracy Now!

I had the pleasure of discussing my New York Times Op-Ed on Democracy Now! (transcript available here):

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Worker-Owners of the World, Unite!

Worker-Owners of America, Unite!

Published: December 14, 2011

College Park, Md.

THE Occupy Wall Street protests have come and mostly gone, and whether they continue to have an impact or not, they have brought an astounding fact to the public’s attention: a mere 1 percent of Americans own just under half of the country’s financial assets and other investments. America, it would seem, is less equitable than ever, thanks to our no-holds-barred capitalist system.

But at another level, something different has been quietly brewing in recent decades: more and more Americans are involved in co-ops, worker-owned companies and other alternatives to the traditional capitalist model. We may, in fact, be moving toward a hybrid system, something different from both traditional capitalism and socialism, without anyone even noticing.

Some 130 million Americans, for example, now participate in the ownership of co-op businesses and credit unions. More than 13 million Americans have become worker-owners of more than 11,000 employee-owned companies, six million more than belong to private-sector unions.

And worker-owned companies make a difference. In Cleveland, for instance, an integrated group of worker-owned companies, supported in part by the purchasing power of large hospitals and universities, has taken the lead in local solar-panel installation, “green” institutional laundry services and a commercial hydroponic greenhouse capable of producing more than three million heads of lettuce a year.

Local and state governments are likewise changing the nature of American capitalism. Almost half the states manage venture capital efforts, taking partial ownership in new businesses. Calpers, California’s public pension authority, helps finance local development projects; in Alaska, state oil revenues provide each resident with dividends from public investment strategies as a matter of right; in Alabama, public pension investing has long focused on state economic development.

Moreover, this year some 14 states began to consider legislation to create public banks similar to the longstanding Bank of North Dakota; 15 more began to consider some form of single-payer or public-option health care plan.

Some of these developments, like rural co-ops and credit unions, have their origins in the New Deal era; some go back even further, to the Grange movement of the 1880s. The most widespread form of worker ownership stems from 1970s legislation that provided tax benefits to owners of small businesses who sold to their employees when they retired. Reagan-era domestic-spending cuts spurred nonprofits to form social enterprises that used profits to help finance their missions.

Recently, growing economic pain has provided a further catalyst. The Cleveland cooperatives are an answer to urban decay that traditional job training, small-business and other development strategies simply do not touch. They also build on a 30-year history of Ohio employee-ownership experiments traceable to the collapse of the steel industry in the 1970s and ’80s.

Further policy changes are likely. Read More »

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Move Your Money, Change the System

This piece originally appeared in Truthout.

Occupy LA – November 5, 2011, Bank Transfer Day. (Photo: too many jennifers)

Inspired by the Occupy movements around the country, nearly two-thirds of a million Americans joined credit unions in the brief five weeks between the beginning of October and “Bank Transfer Day,” November 5, 2011.

The mass movement created $4.5 billion in deposits – another sign that large numbers of people, fed up with Wall Street, are ready to act in some fashion to change the system whenever a plausible opportunity arises.

“Change the system”? Not simply move money to demonstrate anger at the big banks? To be sure, for some, the move was simply one of anger. For others, however, there was a clear sense that the humble, down-home American credit union was somehow a cleaner, better institution. In fact, credit unions are more than that; they are democratized “banks” that suggest practical ways to begin to build, however tentatively, in the direction of a more democratic economy. Nor are they marginal: credit unions hold roughly a trillion dollars in deposits, and involve more than 90 million Americans as participant owners.

Most credit unions help finance routine consumer investments – especially the purchase of homes and automobiles. But credit unions start to get interesting when they go beyond simply being nonprofit, one-person/one-vote cooperative banks and start working actively to open a more expansive direction. The Bronx’s Bethex Federal Credit Union, founded in 1970 by Joy Cousminer and the “welfare mothers” in her adult education class, is a good example.

Read More »

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Washington, D.C. book launch at Busboys and Poets

Video from my book launch for America Beyond Capitalism at a packed-to-capacity Busboys and Poets in Washington, D.C., on December 7th; Ted Howard, the co-founder of the Democracy Collaborative was kind enough to introduce me, Ralph Nader generously offered his perspective and feedback on the themes of my book, and John Cavanagh from the Institute for Policy Studies moderated the evening. Thanks to everyone who came out; and for those who didn’t get in, I will definitely be doing more events both in D.C. and around the country for the book in the near future—sign up for my newsletter or follow me on twitter to stay in the loop.

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